DIY

Understanding the ‘Right to Repair’ Movement and Why It Matters

Reader Contribution by Kayla Matthews
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Guy Mills, a farmer in Ansley, Nebraska, remembers a time when he could repair his equipment without seeking professional help. “If we had a problem with our John Deere, we could fix it ourselves.

No longer,” he explains, and others have supported his sentiment. Tractors, coffee makers, laundry machines, mobile devices and even simple children’s toys are now far more challenging to fix — but why?

Some might attribute it to the complexity of these items, with more advanced design, but this is far from the truth. Shareholder disclosures from Apple reveal the actual reason behind the shift, as the company views the longevity of its products as a direct threat to sustaining profitability. The money they make off repairs and replacements — and the reliance of their customers — represents a steady stream of revenue.

Unfortunately for Apple, and other large corporations, the “Right to Repair” movement is gaining momentum. More than a dozen states have introduced right to repair legislation, founded on the belief that consumers shouldn’t have to depend on companies to repair their personal property. This legislation would mandate design decisions which facilitate independent servicing, as well as access to manuals and parts.

So why is the right to repair movement important, and what implications does it have for consumer goods? We’ll walk you through everything you need to know about both sides of the argument, examining the subject in greater depth.

The battle between grassroots fighters and well-funded corporate lobbies will have an impact on the country’s future, relevant to everyone regardless of their position, and we’ll explain why.

The ‘Right to Repair’ Movement in the U.S.

While the fight is still underway in the United States, across the Atlantic, the European Parliament has already passed a motion calling for regulation on manufacturers. In acknowledgment of European citizen’s “right to repair,” these manufacturers will have to design their products to be more easily repairable.

Progress has moved at a slower pace in the States, with fierce opposition from many of nation’s leading brands. Beyond Apple, Microsoft and John Deere have shown reluctance to accept the change, and organizations intent on new legislation have met resistance. Regardless, lawmakers are on the side of consumers.

Last March, Californian Assemblywoman Susan Eggman introduced a bill which would require manufacturers to release repair instructions and make parts available to product owners and repair shops. While the “California Right to Repair Act” is important, it could prove difficult to pass.

The Argument Against ‘Right to Repair’

In truth, manufacturers prefer to maintain control over their products for as long as possible, enjoying the profit from a sale long after the initial transaction. While Apple holds the public position that repairing a device without professional help could compromise the user’s security, their past actions don’t reflect this.

To provide just one example, Apple sued the owner of a small electronics repair shop in Norway over aftermarket iPhone screens. The owner in question, Henrik Huseby, decided to fight the case, and though Apple made a desperate effort to settle the matter out of court, Huseby persisted and won.

His lawyer, Per Harald Gjerstad, made a statement which sums up the subject well. “In this case, Apple indirectly proves what they really want… They want monopoly on repairs so they can keep high prices. And they therefore do not want to sell parts to anyone other than ‘to themselves.'”

The Importance of the Movement

As devices become more and more difficult to repair, the number of electronics which consumers throw away continues to grow at an exponential rate. In consideration of the fact we produced 44.7 million metric tons of this toxic “e-waste” in 2016 alone, the right to repair is crucial to preserving the environment.

This remains one of the strongest arguments for right to repair legislation, as it would divert large amounts of e-waste from landfills. Consumers who have the option of repairing their electronic devices instead of discarding them will save money and reduce their impact. This isn’t the only benefit, of course, and there are others.

Farmers, ranchers and other agricultural professionals will have access to equipment and service parts for their machinery, reducing their maintenance expenses by a significant margin. If they have the knowledge and experience necessary to repair their vehicles themselves, they’ll cut costs and return to work more quickly.

Guy Mills, the farmer we mentioned earlier, wouldn’t have to turn to a John Deere dealer to service his machinery. Additionally, he’d be able to retrofit old equipment with new features, which would make it far easier to meet new standards of environmental compliance. Otherwise, he’s limited in his options.

The Repairs Outside the Movement

The right to repair movement accounts for a broad spectrum of equipment, appliances and devices, but it doesn’t encompass everything. There are few types of repair which lawmakers aren’t particularly concerned with, like those which are too complicated or technical for the average person to handle.

For example, damage to printed circuit boards is beyond the ability of most people outside technical fields. If a PCB falls to the ground and shatters, most amateurs aren’t capable of completing the remanufacturing process, melting down broken sections and moving through disassembly and reassembly.

While the right to repair covers a diverse range of items, some technology is best left to the professionals. Still, with new legislation, consumers will find they’re in no way limited in the equipment, appliances and devices they can repair. After all, these regulations are meant to give you more options, not fewer.

Looking Toward the Future

Looking toward the future, the right to repair movement isn’t likely to lose momentum. With support from lawmakers, we’re going to see change, and we’re going to see it soon.

The “California Right to Repair Act” is only the beginning, and though there’s still a long way to go, the country is making progress.

Kayla Matthews has been writing about healthy living for several years and is proud to be a featured writer on a number of inspiring health sites, including Mother Earth News. To learn more about Kayla, you can follow her on Google+, Facebook and Twitter and check out her most recent posts on ProductivityTheory.com.


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